VFFI beneficiaries don’t believe allegations-A A +A
Saturday, September 15, 2012
THE Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. (VFFI) may be facing a huge battle, but it will continue its daily work helping domestic helpers and victims of human trafficking.
Jenneth Robles-Aquino, a VFFI social worker, said the allegations thrown at the organization motivate her to work harder.
“Our work will not be paralyzed. We won’t let our beneficiaries suffer just because of some allegations,” she said in an interview yesterday.
“We see this as a challenge for us to work harder and to prove that we are serious about helping the vulnerable sector.”
Aquino, who joined the organization in 2008, is one of the three full-time VFFI workers in Cebu.
Today, the VFFI will conduct a seminar in Cebu City for community watchdogs against human trafficking. The seminar is part of their program called Bantay Bata sa Komunidad.
Beneficiaries of the VFFI do not believe in the accusations of the US Government.
Renier Libot, 17, said the VFFI has always delivered its promises to domestic workers like him.
“Nakit-an man gyud namo nga ang Visayan Forum, dili lang promises. Kung unsa ilang gi-promise namo, ila mang gibuhat (Visayan Forum is not giving us empty promises. Whatever they promise us, they deliver it),” he said.
Libot, a native of Toledo City, said he is thankful to the VFFI for supporting his education. He said he gained self-confidence because of the trainings the group gives to domestic workers.
The VFFI has been helping him for three years. He is now taking a course on commercial cooking with the support of VFFI and its partner, Paglaum Training International.
Reswel Sulana, 17, said she was shocked when she heard the news.
The fourth year high school student, who has been a beneficiary of VFFI since 2009, said the group made her aware of her rights as a child domestic worker.
Sulana, who studies at the Poblacion National High School in Lapu-Lapu City, is the president of the Samahan at Ugnayan ng mga Manggagawang Pantahanan sa Pilipinas (Sumapi) in Cebu.
Organized by VFFI, Sumapi has more than 500 members in Cebu. Aquino said more than 2,000 domestic workers in Cebu have benefitted from the programs of the VFFI.
The US Agency for International Development (Usaid) accused VFFI president and executive director Ma. Cecilia Flores Oebanda of failing to account for P210 million in aid and submitting fake receipts.
According to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), VFFI received P300 million from the Usaid and that receipts for the P41 million had been faked.
On Aug. 31, the NBI raided the VFFI office in Quezon City and found boxes of allegedly falsified documents.
The NBI gathered testimonies of a former VFFI bookkeeper and an auditor hired by the Usaid.
The NBI recommended the prosecution of Oebanda in the Department of Justice, and the filing of charges against VFFI directors, finance officers, bookkeepers and other employees.
Oebanda has denied the allegations, saying the Usaid case is “part of a demolition job that undermines our credibility and integrity as the leading NGO fighting human trafficking in the Philippines.”
“We feel betrayed by the lack of due process,” she said in a press statement.
The complaint of Usaid came only weeks after the passage of a law protecting the rights of domestic workers in the country, which the VFFI lobbied for 15 years.
Aquino believes that the accusations against their founder are false. “I can see her burning passion to help people,” she said.
Earlier, VFFI regional coordinator Vic Abadesco said the Usaid case will not affect their projects in Cebu, where they focus on helping domestic workers.
Abadesco said programs in Cebu are mostly funded by International Children’s Trust Fund and the Anti-Slavery International.
Aquino said they will let their lawyers handle the case, while social workers like her will continue to work in the communities.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 16, 2012.